Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez has pleaded not guilty and denies… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)
Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez, who has been in jail since his October arrest on two dozen corruption charges, finally made bail on Friday.
Noguez is accused of taking $185,000 in bribes from Ramin Salari, a prominent property tax consultant and generous Noguez campaign fundraiser. In return for the cash, Noguez is alleged to have lowered property tax bills for some of Salari's wealthy clients.
Both Noguez and Salari pleaded not guilty following their Oct. 17 arrest, and have vigorously denied any wrongdoing.
Salari was able to post his $1.16-million bail within hours of his arrest. But Noguez, who faced the same bail amount, has languished in jail. A key obstacle has been proving that the money he uses for his defense is not derived from the alleged criminal enterprise.
Noguez cleared that hurdle Friday morning after a wealthy benefactor put up property as collateral, according to Deputy Dist. Atty. Max Huntsman.
Huntsman declined to identify the donor, but said the person had received "no obvious tax breaks" from Noguez.
Noguez's attorney, Michael Proctor, said a group of Noguez supporters put up the money, but acknowledged there was one person who put up more than the rest. Proctor, too, declined to identify that donor.
Morris Demayo, Noguez's bail bondsman, said the assessor's friends put up $92,600 in cash and secured the rest of the amount with collateral, primarily real estate. Demayo said he was stunned by how thorough the district attorney's vetting process had been for potential donors.
"A lot of people were turned away, that's why this took so long," Demayo said. By comparison, he said former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo was able to raise $2 million in "a week and a half."
Noguez has been fighting for his release for nearly five months. "This is America. People are innocent until they are proven guilty," Proctor said Friday. "John ought to be out, and we're happy about that."
Proctor declined to describe what Noguez is looking forward to most after his months of isolation at Men's Central Jail, saying only that his client is eager to start working on his defense, which is difficult to do from a jail cell.
Though Noguez continued receiving his $197,000 county salary while in jail, he was not allowed to use that money for bail. "We're alleging that he received bribes, so his salary was linked to his criminal conduct," Huntsman said.
Despite his arrest and incarceration, Noguez is still officially the Los Angeles County assessor and could walk into work Monday morning and take over. Rumors have been flying around the assessor's office for weeks that he would do just that if he made bail.
But acting Assessor Santos Kreimann sent a memo to employees on Friday attempting to tamp down that speculation. "Although as an elected official Mr. Noguez has the right to immediately return to his post, I fully expect that he will remain on a voluntary leave of absence to focus on his legal issues and minimize the impact of the trial on our day-to-day operations," Kreimann wrote.
Proctor said Noguez has no intention of returning to the office.